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How To Recognize When A Loved One Is Dying

Adult siblings crying after their dead father

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Last Updated on January 26, 2021 by Frank Davis

We all have one thing in common. Death! It is an undeniable truth of our life. However, seeing your loved one on death bed can feel like a blast straight in your heart. What’s even more painful is waiting for their peaceful departure to the heavens without knowing how much time they have left to spend with you. 

Moreover, death is a gradual process. Hospice care patients undergo multiple physical, emotional, and psychological changes in beginning months, weeks, days, and hours before the end. If you know and can recognize what stage they are passing through and how they feel inside, you can make their last breaths more cheerful and comfortable. 

Read on to learn how to recognize when a loved one is dying so that you can make their transition more comfortable and peaceful.

Death: A Journey From Known To Unknown

As the hospice patient starts transitioning, the dying process begins. It is a journey from the world’s physical life to what is unfamiliar. As the dying process begins, the body begins to work to make it possible. The hospice patient comprehends that death will occur as they see signs that the body gives. The journey ultimately leads to the physical departure of the body.

The Process Of Dying: Signs and Symptoms

The process of dying usually begins months before death actually occurs. However, the journey to death is different for every single person. As they have bodies that work differently and illnesses that progress differently. There will be people who may experience a slow steady decline while others experience it quick.

There are many physical, behavioral, and psychological changes that gradually take place along the journey towards death. Below is a brief explanation of different signs and symptoms that may appear in hospice patients three months to weeks or days before their end.

One to Three Months Before Death

Many obvious signs may begin to develop during 1 to 3 months before death. You can observe behavioral and psychological changes as hospice realizes that end is approaching. 

Worried Seniors in Hospice Care

Behavioral Changes: Hospice patients may begin to withdraw from relations and might recall old memories that cause them to hurt in one way or another. Your loved one might no longer want to meet his friends and relatives and might regret what he did or didn’t. Make sure you help them recall good moments of their life and don’t let them be sad at all. They might not like to eat their favorite dishes anymore. 

Further Reading:
What to do if someone stops eating or drinking

Physical Changes; The body’s metabolism slows down near death. The hospice patient needs much less energy than before. You may observe reduced appetite and significant weight loss in hospice. They may lose their sense of taste. The hospice patient may feel fatigued (more often than before) and may lose interest in activities he used to enjoy. They may not feel thirsty anymore. But make sure you attend them and don’t let them stay dehydrated. Otherwise, their condition may worsen.

One to Two Weeks Before Death

The process of dying can accelerate in the last 1 to 2 weeks of life. It can be frightening and disturbing for family members.

Mental Changes: During this time, hospice patients begin to sleep most of the time. Disorientation is common and altered senses of perception, and strange behaviors can be expected. You may observe very intense moods, hyperactivity, and delusions in a dying person at this point in the journey. According to a 2008 study, people get agitated and abruptly change their emotional and psychological behaviors. Studies have also shown that people near-death may hallucinate (talk to someone who is not there) and make purposeless movements and actions. So it is advisable to listen and support your beloved in their thoughts gently.

Physical Changes: The body is having a more difficult time maintaining itself, and your loved one may need your help with just any form of activity. The hospice patient’s body may increase in weakness and fatigue. Although you can’t prevent it from happening, make sure they take rest properly. Limit the number of visitors for minimum disturbance. 

Some other physical signs that the body may show during this time include:

  • Fall in body temperature
  • Low blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Skin color may get pale or blue 
  • Breathing changes occur, often becoming more rapid and labored.
  • Congestion may also occur, causing a rattling sound and cough.
  • Speaking decreases and eventually stops altogether.
  • Periods of quietness may be interrupted by sudden movements of a person’s arms or legs.  

Last Expressions: Days to Hours Before Death

A few days to hours before death, your beloved’s energy may replenish. The hospice patient may want to get out of bed, move around in the room, talk to their visitors, and ask for food after many days of eating nothing at all. Many people get excited seeing their beloved one returning to life. But, that is a temporary boost in energy. Soon after that, their energy drops. Previous signs and symptoms reappear. They begin to breathe slowly and irregularly. 

Further Reading:
Hospice Nutrition – End of Life Nutrition

At this time, listen to them with more affection and attention. This is what they needed the most as death approaches. Eventually, there comes no breath at all. Their airways get congested.

Death Approaching

One of the most challenging things is to see your loved one eventually die. All sorts of physical reactions may happen when a beloved dies. You will see their body temperature will go down, and you might observe their pupils dilated and fixed, and you will see the skin of their knees, feet, and hands changing purplish, pale, and grey in color. A dying person might develop coughing and shiver out of fear and pain. You will observe rapid breathing followed by a period of no breathing at all. Oxygen delivery might help at the moment to ease the difficulty of breathing, but the bitter truth is a person is helpless before the divine’s decree. 

Sad Son Next to Dying Father

Understanding these signs may help you prepare for your loved one’s death. In the very moment of them dying before your eyes, you should stay calm before them and do not interrupt them repeatedly because they might fear that you wanted to harm them.

Hospice Care To Help Your Beloved

Switching to hospice care is recommended when you no longer can handle the idea of them going through stages of painful death. Hospice Valley of Los Angeles can make every step of your beloved’s journey easy and comfortable till their last breath with us. Our professional hospice care providers can take better care and help with your beloved’s physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.

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Author: Frank Davis

After working in the healthcare field for over ten years, Frank Davis has developed considerable expertise and offers you valuable insights into the industry through blogs. He has published blogs for Hospice Valley, Senior Home Care, and 24 Hour Care, and in his leisure time, Frank enjoys reading and writing.

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